Colin Farrell as Alexander
Angelina Jolie as Olympias
Val Kilmer as Philip
Anthony Hopkins as Old Ptolemy
Jared Leto as Hephaistion
Rosario Dawson as Roxane
Alexander was one of history’s best known rulers. His excellent strategic mind and great personal leadership enabled him to command his troops to conquer almost all of the world he knew. Oliver Stone’s new movie about Alexander (Colin Farrell) looks beyond the militaristic aspects and shows his life from birth until death.
Oliver Stone’s movies are not shy to conspiracy theories or controversies and that tradition is kept in Alexander. By today’s standards, ancient Greek society would be considered very liberal in their philosophy about sex and Stone highlights homo-eroticism to the point of distracting from the rest of the movie.
Historians agree that Hephaistion (Jared Leto) was Alexander’s closest friend from childhood and his most trusted commander and adviser. Their disagreement is to whether Alexander’s known love for Hephaistion was carried over to the bedroom – Stone chooses to assume that it did. If handled with tact there would be nothing wrong, but Stone’s Hephaistion is not just the battle hardened warrior and master logician who was wounded while fighting with the troops in Alexander’s armies. He is also an effeminate man that wears heavy mascara and fanciful colors while the rest of the Greeks remain in plain togas or full battle gear. The over the top depiction of him detracts from the story.
Fortunately the rest of the story is a good one, but it is told in an often disjointed way. Not only are flashbacks often used to explain events but whole sections of the story are told out of time sequence. The death of Alexander’s father, the event that led to his becoming king, is not told until almost the end of the movie, after Alexander has already fought all of his major battles.
Some of those battles are still studied by modern military commanders as examples of what to do on the battlefield. The movie hints at the great strategic genius that Alexander had but shows most of the fights from a soldier’s eye view, preventing the audience from seeing the battle plans unfold. That makes for some great action sequences but it could have been more than just that.
However, that could just be playing to the film’s strengths, since where the movie shines is in the action. You get the feel that you are on the battlefield with the troops, waiting for the fight to start. The cinematography is mostly very good, if a little misdirected, with the exception of a couple cave sequences that are shot way too dark. The score by Vangelis is immerse and helps to overcome the just shy of three hour run-time of the film.
A choice was made to target the English language markets. None of the actors sound the least bit Greek, and later in the film the Persians do not sound Arabic. This can either be a good thing, if you do not like to decipher heavily accented English, or a bad thing if you enjoy a more historical feel. The acting itself is, for the most part, done rather well. Val Kilmer as Alexander’s father Philip makes a pretty good drunken warrior king, only proud of the martial aspects of his son. Counterpoised to that is the plotting of Olympias (Angelina Jolie), Alexander’s mother.
Who should see the movie? This is Oliver Stone’s interpretation of Alexander, if you enjoy his other work you should also enjoy this. Colin Farrell fans will get to see a lot of him here. He cuts a commanding figure as Alexander and that should make them happy. Action fans will love the battle scenes, but hey have to also accept the long stretches of background and a fairly high background level of homo-eroticism. If you are looking for a love story there is not really one here, other than the love for power that drives Alexander. The movie will make you think, mostly about whether you agree with some of the premises or not. The film has a R rating for multiple good reasons, there are often graphic battle scenes, a couple rapes (one man on man), and an over-extended sex scene (not between Alexander and Hephaistion).
Overall the film just seems to run long. While Alexander’s life is incredibly interesting, many scenes feel like they could have been left out to make a tighter fit. As long as you do not bring in a large drink and know what you are getting into, you should be able to enjoy the film. If the subject matter will bother you then it is probably best to just skip this one.